Demanding Accountability in Puerto Rico’s Energy Crisis

“There’s no excuse not to transition to a system that is better, increasingly resilient, and more affordable than it was before. All members of Congress should call on FEMA to ensure this common-sense transition. “

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Eric Adams tours a village outside of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, which was damaged by Hurricane Fiona.

Before Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico, residents of the Island were already living in disaster-like conditions. It would be a mistake to think this is a stroke of misfortune or simply more evidence of climate fury.

What too many looked away from was intermittent electrical service and long black-out periods under the inefficiency of the electrical grid operator US-Canadian LUMA Energy. Despite being paid more than $160.8 million prior to June 1, 2021, LUMA’s lack of planning during their transition as the Island’s grid operator has resulted in major day-to-day blackouts affecting more than 900,000 customers; interruptions of critical electricity service in hospitals, residences; damage to public and commercial equipment; and even fires. The intense foreboding Puerto Rican residents and businesses—most of whom do not have resources to install renewable energy micro-grids—were feeling has come to pass, as the grid began to collapse before Fiona touched down.

The abundant warnings were already there. An island-wide blackout on April 6 remains under investigation and under a shroud of secrecy. Blackouts have become even more frequent this year, according to the PR Energy Bureau (PREB), the entity that measures some of LUMA’s performance. LUMA has outright bucked demands for transparency and delayed attempts by PREB, elected officials and community organizations to hold the consortium accountable.

Last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James rightfully demanded an investigation into LUMA’s contract and called for greater accountability for the people of Puerto Rico; more of our political leaders should join her and do the same.

The $1.5 billion contract between the government of Puerto Rico and LUMA that privatized electricity distribution is tied to the availability of historic amounts of FEMA and other federal funds for Puerto Rico’s recovery and electric grid reconstruction. LUMA is tasked with administering at least $9.5 billion dollars of FEMA funds as part of its deal to repair and reinforce the transmission system.

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